I have 312 grandparents. I know each and every one of them by name, by their favorite drink, and their food allergies. I know that Lavelle loves butter pecan ice cream, even though he can’t eat pecans. Every Sunday during football season, I ask Lorraine, “Are the Seahawks going to win today?” She always responds, “Oh, of course!” I’ve grown to know and to care for each and every resident at the retirement home where I work, and I enjoy going to work to talk with them, but it wasn’t always that way.
I used to be so scared going to work. During my first shift, I made a million and one mistakes. I remember serving a resident mayonnaise with a baked potato, instead of the sour cream he asked for. I forgot to serve a resident her clam chowder, and I gave frequently gave residents sandwiches on white bread when they asked for wheat. Even though I made so many mistakes, the residents still told me that everything was okay. I felt awful, and I didn’t know if I was going to survive working there. I watched my coworkers in awe, and I thought that there was no way I was ever going to be able to perform like they did. After my first shift my head was swimming with information about what to do and what not to do from my coworkers. My job was way harder than I expected, and I knew that I had to step it up if I wanted to continue. When I got home, I wanted to quit. I didn’t believe that I was capable of working at a retirement home, I didn’t know what I was going to do.
It was eerie walking across the dining room the first weeks. All of the residents stared at me because they knew I was new. I could hear people talking about me, they were asking if “that girl” was capable of being a server. Everyone was wondering if I was going to make it. Those first few weeks were the hardest part of my job. No matter what I told myself that I was going to prove to everyone that I could be successful as a server. Over time, I got better at my job. During the first few months I eventually stopped forgetting people’s orders, and I became faster at my job. As I began to improve, I noticed that I enjoyed going to work, and that I loved talking to the residents. I’ve been at my job for over a year now, and I’m glad I continued working there. I’ve built relationships with people who I consider to be honorary grandparents.
I went into my first shift expecting to gain only a pay check at the end of the week, but instead, I gained life skills such as compassion, patience, and empathy. I’ve learned that everyone has a story to share, and if you take the time to listen, you gain a better understanding of others and the world around you. I met Larry, a decorated World War II veteran, who will talk to me about his days serving in the war, but would rather ask me what I’m doing in Girl Scouts. John and Betty also ask how my soccer team is doing, and they tease me about going professional someday. If someone were to ask me, today, “Why do you surround yourself with grumpy old folks?” I would correct them and say, “Just because they live in a retirement home, doesn’t mean that they’re boring and bitter.” I would tell them that I genuinely enjoy working at a retirement home because I’ve made connections with people that I never expected. My job taught me many life lessons, many that I didn’t expect to gain in a dining room. I’ve been blessed to have 312 grandparents, who else is that lucky?